LAFAYETTE — Going into its game against Arizona on Sunday, Louisiana-Lafayette knew a win would clinch a spot in the regional championship, and a loss would’ve meant either win three games in a 24-hour span or stay at home for the rest of the summer.
“It’s kind of like the pink elephant in the room,” said coach Tony Robichaux. “He was in there, nobody talked about it much, but we saw him. … Your back’s up against the wall if we drop that game.”
So the Cajuns (43-19) got started early and didn’t let up, trouncing Arizona 10-3 in front of a packed house at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field to move on to Monday’s regional championship. It was the 12th straight win for the Cajuns, who will have two chances to beat either Sam Houston State or Arizona and advance to the super regional round.
The Cajuns scored runs in five of the first six innings, and they did it in a huge variety of ways.
“We wanted to come out from pitch one and be ready to play,” said senior second baseman Stefan Trosclair, who drove in three runs. “That was a big thing today. … We came out ready to play from the beginning, and that’s what helped us throughout the game.”
The Cajuns sent eight batters to the plate in the first inning, pushing three runs across with an RBI single, a squeeze bunt and a sacrifice fly. It set the tone for a day when the Cajuns used just about every tool at their disposal to bring runs home.
That hasn’t always been the case for a team that struggled early in the year to get bunts down.
“Through this streak that we’ve got running, we’ve been very good at getting bunts down and handling the short game,” Robichaux said. “I think that’s what’s helped us the most. We’re finally able to have the short game to where now they have to look for more than one thing.”
But, as Robichaux later said, there’s more than one way to win a game. The Cajuns didn’t rely entirely on the short game to get to 10 runs.
Trosclair, whose RBI single in the first started the scoring barrage, led off the third inning by hammering a hanging breaking ball over the fence in left field for his seventh home run of the season.
But Arizona made its charge against Cajuns starter Gunner Leger (7-3).
Leger allowed just one base runner in the first three innings, but Wildcats designated hitter J.J. Matijevic tagged him for a two-out RBI double to the left field corner in the fourth.
Then in the fifth inning, Leger walked No. 9 hitter Louis Boyd on five pitches, turning the lineup over to leadoff hitter Cody Ramer, who clubbed a 3-2 pitch over the fence.
The Wildcats worked the count against the Cajuns’ ace, and Leger left the game after throwing 98 pitches in five innings.
“I was a little off today,” Leger said. “I’ve got to do a better job of throwing strikes, especially if we get two outs. It seemed like every time we got two outs I went 2-0, 3-1 or something. I’ve got to do a better job of closing out an inning.”
But, Leger added, his teammates did a great job of picking him up. After each of the Wildcats’ run-producing innings, the Cajuns answered.
They scored three runs on four hits in the bottom of the fourth inning on four singles, then pulled off the ultimate play in the bottom of the fifth.
With runners at second and third and leadoff hitter Brian Mills at the plate, Mills laid down a squeeze bunt right in front of the plate. Alex Pinero crossed the plate before a play could be made, so pitcher Austin Schnabel tried for the safe out at first base.
But he hesitated because nobody was there to cover the bag, and the Cajuns took advantage. By the time Ramer, the second baseman, made it over to cover first base, Brad Antchak had already made the break for the plate. He crossed without a throw, scoring two runs on one squeeze bunt and giving the Cajuns a 9-3 lead.
The Cajuns tacked on another run in the sixth when Kyle Clement led the inning off with a triple and was brought home on Trosclair’s sacrifice fly to left field, and Arizona’s will to rally looked deflated after the two-run squeeze.
The Cajuns went to junior right-hander Jevin Huval to relieve Leger in the top of the sixth, and the LSU-Eunice product fired three scoreless innings in relief to close the game.